It is truly proper to glorify you, who have borne God, the Ever-blessed, Immaculate, and the Mother of our God. More honorable then the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who, a virgin, gave birth to God the Word, you, truly the Mother of God, we magnify. (1)
Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, speaks of the light of Christ, which shone first in the East. He reminds us that the Eastern Churches continue to illumine the world today, and it is important to appreciate and retain the fullness of the Catholic Church’s rich Eastern heritage. One of the most brilliant rays of light from the Eastern Church shines from the honor and love given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom they refer to as “Theotokos,” or “God-Bearer.” Within the Eastern liturgy and iconography, one finds clearly set forth all the truths about the Blessed Mother’s roles as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, and a clear explanation of why She is given the special praise of hyperdulia above all other created beings.
A closer look at the Divine Office of the Eastern Church, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Akathist Hymn, and Church iconography will provide abundant evidence of how the Eastern Church honors the Holy Theotokos, and enables her to fill the Church with the light of Christ.
The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is very well known and common in the Eastern Churches today, both those in union with Rome and those that are not. St. John Chrysostom (345-407 AD), Bishop of Constantinople and an eloquent preacher and Father of the Church, formulated this liturgy, which probably received its present form after the ninth century. The liturgical prayers of the East have nourished the Christian Church throughout the centuries in their understanding and love for the Mother of God. Since we express our beliefs within our prayers (lex orandi lex est credendi), one must look to the liturgical prayers of the Byzantine Rite in order to understand the Eastern Church’s beliefs regarding the Holy Mother of God. These liturgical prayers make clear that Mary is honored in the Eastern Churches as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate for the people of God.
The Divine Office of the East
Throughout the Eastern Church Divine Office, the Blessed Mother is spoken of in terms of Old Testament references, showing Her divine fore-ordination to be the Mother of God and how the history of salvation culminates in Her. Thus, in the matins prayers for the Birth of the Holy Theotokos, the Church sings:
The bush on the mountain that was not consumed by fire, and the Chaldean furnace that brought refreshment as the dew, plainly prefigured thee, O Bride of God. For in a material womb, unconsumed thou hast received the divine and immaterial fire.
Again, in the matins prayers for the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos the Church links the Blessed Mother to Old Testament images, singing:
Let us praise in faith Mary the Child of God, whom long ago the assembly of prophets foretold, speaking of her as jar of manna and Aaron’s rod, tablet of the Law and uncut mountain.
In addition, the prophecies of David in the psalms are seen as fulfilled by Mary’s entry into the temple, for the Church sings:
Let David prophecy, who said in the spirit: “virgins shall be brought after thee; they shall be brought into the temple to the queen and Mother.” (2)
Furthermore, the Church sings of St. Ann, regarding the Blessed Mother’s fore-ordination:
Today Ann the Barren gives birth to the Child of God, foreordained from all generations to be the habitation of the King of all and Maker, Christ our God, in fulfillment of the divine dispensation. (3)
The Divine Office goes on to set forth the truth that the Blessed Mother’s freedom from the stain of sin from the time of her conception enables Her to take part in the redemption of mankind. Because She is Immaculate, She is able to reverse the curse of Eden and take part in the salvation of all. In Her a new Eve is born, who, through Her obedience, reverses the curse brought about by Eve’s disobedience. For the Feast of the Birth of the Holy Theotokos, the Church sings:
O Adam and Eve . . . rejoice with us today: for if by your transgression ye closed the gate of Paradise to those of old, we have now been given a glorious fruit, Mary the Child of God, who opens its entrance to us all. (4)
She is further extolled for reversing the curse of Eden in these words:
She is the restoration of Adam and the recalling of Eve, the fountain of incorruption and the release from corruption: through her we have been made godlike and delivered from death. (5)
The Church recognizes that while Eve’s sin brought death, the Immaculate Mother’s obedience brings life and deliverance, and thus Eve rejoices in her own salvation and the restoration of all which comes through her offspring. In the words of Eve from the Great Vespers of The Birth of the Holy Theotokos: “Unto me is born deliverance, through which I shall be set free from the bonds of hell.” Further extolling this mystery the Church sings:
Adam is set free and Eve dances for joy, and in spirit they cry aloud to thee, O Theotokos: “By thee, through Christ’s appearance, we have been delivered from Adam’s ancient curse.” (6)
The Blessed Mother is clearly seen in the Divine Office of the Eastern Church as the pure and undefiled one, who “alone among women is pure and blessed” and thus is able to give flesh to the God-man. (7) At Her birth the Church rejoices that a worthy vessel for the Word has been born:
In thee, O Undefiled, is the mystery of the Trinity praised and glorified. For the Father was well pleased with thee, and in thee the Word made His tabernacle among us, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed thee. (8)
Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation also clearly set forth the Blessed Mother as the Immaculate One. The archangel greets Her as, “O all-holy Lady, utterly without spot.” (9)
Within the Divine Office, the Church affirms the Blessed Mother’s freedom of choice, demonstrating that She was not a passive vessel, but an active participant, who cooperated, out of freedom, in God’s saving work. This is made clear within the Divine Office of the Annunciation in the form of a conversation between Mary and Gabriel, in which:
Mary’s doubts are set forth with the utmost directness, we see all her incredulity and her embarrassment; and this is done in order to make clear that she acted in full freedom, consciously and deliberately accepting the will of God. When, on this and other feasts, the . . . Church shows honor to the Mother of God, it is not just because God chose her but also because she herself chose aright. (10)
In addition to glorifying the Immaculate One’s freedom from sin, the Divine Office of the Eastern Church also sets forth her special bond with Christ and her Co-Redemptive role of suffering with Her Son, which provides the basis for Her further roles as Mediatrix of all grace and Advocate. One beautiful aspect of the Office that identifies Mary with the redemptive role of Her Son is seen in the Feast of the Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the temple. Just as She and Joseph would later offer the infant Jesus in the temple, Mary’s parents brought Her to the temple as a young child, making clear the fact that She, like Christ, was immolated to God for the plan of salvation. Thus the Church sings:
Having received the fruit of the promise come from the Lord, today in the temple Joachim and Ann offered the Mother of God as an acceptable sacrifice; and Zacharias the great High Priest received her with his blessing. Into the holy places the Holy of Holies is fittingly brought to dwell, as a sacrifice acceptable to God. (11)
The Church also shows us the unique and intimate bond between Christ and Mary, which justifies Her role as Co-Redemptrix, in the fact that She gives Jesus His most Holy Body; the Church sings:
From thy virgin womb the Light that was before the sun, even God who has come forth upon us, took flesh ineffably, coming to dwell among us in the body. Thee, then, O blessed and all-holy Theotokos, do we magnify. (12)
Many other aspects of Mary’s intimate sharing in the sufferings of Christ throughout His earthly life are highlighted in the Divine Office, making clear the understanding that She participated in a unique way with Christ in His saving work for the salvation of men. The Church honors the suffering She underwent in the flight to Egypt, putting these words into the mouth of the Mother: “O Son . . . as I behold thee fleeing from Herod with his sword of sorrow, I am torn in soul. But do Thou live and save those that honor Thee.” (13)
Additionally, the Church sets forth Her Co-Redemptive role when it lauds Her co-suffering at the Passion, showing the depth of Her suffering with Jesus, suffering in a way that only a Mother could. The Church sings:
When the pure Virgin, His Mother, beheld Him upon the Cross, she cried out in pain: “Woe is me, my Child: why hast Thou done this? Thou, whose beauty was fairer than that of all mortal men, dost appear without life and form, having neither shape nor comeliness. Woe is me, O my Light. I cannot bear to look upon Thee sleeping, and I am wounded in my innermost self, a harsh sword pierces my heart.” (14)
Clearly, the liturgy shows the Eastern Church’s understanding of the Blessed Mother’s most intimate sharing in the sufferings of Her Son, and thus Her unique cooperation in His Redemptive work, which merits Her the title of Co-Redemptrix.
Mary Mediatrix and Advocate
The Mother’s ongoing role as Mediatrix of all grace and Advocate for all people is also set forth within the Byzantine liturgy as the Church recognizes that She was given at Calvary to John and to all the children of God as a Mother, and that She is now in heaven with Jesus where Her motherly care continues. In the liturgy of the Dormition the Church plainly shows the belief that She is taken up to heaven where She continues Her powerful role of intercession for the redemption of Her children. While the Roman Catholic Church calls this event the Assumption of Mary, the Eastern Church entitles this Her “Dormition.” The Church tells of Her place at the right hand of Her Son where She intercedes for us. Calling Her the “Gate of God” and the “Palace of the King,” the Church sings of Her Who, even in death, did not know corruption, and was taken straight to heaven:
What songs filled with awe did all the apostles of the Word then offer thee, O Virgin, as they stood round thy deathbed and cried aloud in wonder: “The Palace of the King withdraws; the Ark of holiness is raised on high. Let the gates be opened wide that the Gate of God may enter into abundant joy, she who asks without ceasing for great mercy on the world.” (15)
Within the liturgical text the Church manifestly sees that the Blessed Mother is now with Her Son, where She is able to intercede most effectively on our behalf. The Church asks for the powerful prayers of She Who dwells with Her Son:
Therefore, O most pure Theotokos, who livest for ever with thy Son, the King who brings life, pray without ceasing that thy newborn people be guarded on every side and saved from all adverse assault; for we are under thy protection. (16)
Again and again throughout the liturgy, the Church recognizes the significance of Her being taken up into heaven, and that in Her role as Advocate, the Blessed Mother continues to pray for Her children without ceasing:
O pure and most holy Virgin, the multitude of angels in heaven and mankind on earth extol and venerate thy Dormition; for thou art the Mother of Christ, our God and the Creator of all. Never cease, we entreat thee, to intercede with Him on our behalf; for next to God we have put our hope in thee, O far-famed and unwedded Theotokos. (17)
The Church sings of the saving power of Her prayers from Her place in heaven:
In giving birth, O Theotokos, thou hast retained thy virginity, and in falling asleep thou hast not forsaken the world. Thou who art the Mother of Life hast passed over into life, and by thy prayers thou dost deliver our souls from death. (18)
Once again the Church, after Her Dormition, emphasizes her role as Advocate in heaven, pleading for us, and as Mediatrix of all grace, pouring out salvation for the faithful:
Come, O ye faithful, let us approach the tomb of the Mother of God, and let us embrace it, touching it sincerely with the lips and eyes and foreheads of the heart. Let us draw abundant gifts of healing grace from this ever-flowing fount. (19)
In another beautiful prayer from the Office of the Feast of the Dormition, the Church asks that She, who now reigns with Her Son and continues Her cooperative work with Christ in our salvation, pray for us. The Church on earth echoes the prayers of the apostles, singing: “As thou departest to the heavenly mansions unto thy Son, do thou ever save thine inheritance.” (20)
In addition to describing Her roles of Advocate and Mediatrix, the Church also uses these specific titles within the liturgy. For example, as Mary enters the temple herself as a young child, the Church cries:
Make this feast to be held in honor throughout all the world by those who cry: The Theotokos is come among us, mediator of salvation. (21)
Again she is hailed as Mediatrix in the Liturgy for the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the seventh Ecumenical Council:
O gentle Protectress of Christians, unfailing Mediatrix before the Creator, do not despise the prayerful voices of sinners; but in your goodness hasten to assist those who cry out to you; “Inspire us to prayer, and hasten to hear our supplication, intercede always, Mother of God, in behalf of those who honor you.”
Once again, a specific title is used when Mary is called Advocate in the liturgy for the deceased: “We have in You a defense and a refuge and an advocate acceptable to God to Whom you gave birth, O Virgin Mother of God, the salvation of the faithful.” (22)
The Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God
In addition to the abundance of liturgical evidence of the honor that the Eastern Church gives to Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, evidence of the Eastern Church’s recognition of Her unique roles can also be found in the Eastern Church hymn to the Mother of God, known as the Akathist Hymn. This hymn contains abundant examples of the Eastern Church’s praises of Mary for Her unique participation in the work of Her Son. While the hymn does not use the explicit titles of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, the fact that She is honored for these roles is clear. As Luigi Gambero states in his description of the Akathist hymn: “The Akathist is a convincing example of how the theology of the Greek Fathers could create titles indicative of fervid admiration for the divine mystery, in which Mary was involved in a unique way.” (23) This beautiful hymn serves as another shining example of the Eastern Church’s beliefs regarding the Holy Theotokos, once again relying on the principle, lex orandi est lex credendi (what we pray is what we believe). Truly, the words that the Church prays set forth the beliefs of the Church; the prayer of the Akathist clearly shows us the Eastern Church’s belief in Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate.
Looking more closely at the descriptions used in the Akathist clearly shows the Blessed Mother’s various roles. Within the text of the Akathist She is set forth as the Co-Redemptrix, worthy to take part in an intimate and unique way in the Redemptive work of Her Son. Due to the extraordinary union She achieved with God through the Incarnation, based on Her Immaculate Conception, She is able to take part in reversing the curse of Adam and Eve and suffering all with Her Son to become the Co-Redemptrix, and thus the joy of our race. Let us look at some of the lines within the hymn in which She is praised for Her Co-Redemptive role:
Hail, O Restoration of the fallen Adam (first chant)
Hail, O Redemption of the tears of Eve (first chant)
Hail, O you through whom creation is renewed (first chant)
Hail, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe (first chant)
Hail, Expiation of the whole universe (third chant)
Hail, O you through whom death was despoiled (fourth chant)
Hail, O you who unthroned the enemy of men (fifth chant)
Hail, O you who cleansed us from the stain of pagan worship (fifth chant)
Hail, O you who saved us from the mire of evil deeds (fifth chant)
Hail, O Resurrection of mankind (sixth chant)
Hail, O Downfall of the demons (sixth chant)
Hail, O you through whom transgression was erased (eighth chant)
Hail, O you through whom paradise was opened (eighth chant)
Hail, O Retriever from the abyss of ignorance (ninth chant)
Hail, O Ship for those who seek salvation (ninth chant)
Hail, O you who erased the stain of sin (eleventh chant)
Hail, O you through whom the enemies are routed (twelfth chant)
Hail, O Healing of my body (twelfth chant)
Hail, O Salvation of my soul (twelfth chant)
In addition to the lines within the Akathist that set forth the Blessed Mother’s Co-Redemptive role, we also see many lines that show Her role as Mediatrix of all graces. The lines of the hymn make it clear that the Church sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as enthroned with Her Son in heaven, where She dispenses to us all the graces that we need. For example, She is depicted as a “holy Vessel,” and a “fruitful Tree,” in order to show that She is the one from whom all the graces of heaven come down to believers. We can see Her role as Mediatrix of all graces set forth in the following lines of the Akathist:
Hail, celestial Ladder by whom God came down (second chant)
Hail, O you who enlighten faithful minds (second chant)
Hail, O you through whom we were clothed with glory (fourth chant)
Hail, O Rock who quenched those who thirst for life (sixth chant)
Hail, O Pillar of fire who guided those in darkness (sixth chant)
Hail, O fruitful Tree from whom believers feed (seventh chant)
Hail, O Message unsure to men without faith (eighth chant)
Hail, O Dispenser of God’s bounties (tenth chant)
Hail, O you who gave sense to those who had lost it (tenth chant)
Hail, O Beam of the mystical Sun (eleventh chant)
Hail, holy Vessel overflowing with joy (eleventh chant)
The Akathist also describes the Blessed Mother’s role as Advocate. The hymn beautifully describes how the Holy Theotokos receives all of the Church’s prayers and continues to intercede for the Church unceasingly before the throne of God. Because it is through Her advocacy that believers enter heaven, She is called such titles as the Door, the Key, the Voice, and the Hope of the Church. Her intercessory role as Advocate is made evident within the following lines of the hymn:
Hail, O Bridge leading earthly ones to heaven (second chant)
Hail, O Trust of mortals before God (third chant)
Hail, O Key to the doors of Paradise (fourth chant)
Hail, O you who guide the faithful toward Wisdom (fifth chant)
Hail, O you who unsettled even the just judge (seventh chant)
Hail, O Stole for those who lack freedom to speak (seventh chant)
Hail, O Gate of the sublime Mystery (eighth chant)
Hail, O Key to the Kingdom of Christ (eighth chant)
Hail, O Hope for the ages of bliss (eighth chant)
Hail, O Gateway of salvation (tenth chant)
Hail, O you who join the faithful with God (tenth chant)
While scholars suggest several different authors of the Akathist, including George of Pisidia, Germanus of Constantinople, Sergius of Constantinople, and Romanos the Melodist, these names remain hypotheses. The most recent studies date the composition of the hymn to the late fifth or early sixth century. Regardless of the identity of the author, Luigi Gambero notes, one can agree with the conclusion of Father Ermanno Toniolo, from his book, Acatisto: Canto di lode a Maria, fonte di luce, when he states:
Undoubtedly, its author was a great poet, an outstanding theologian, a consummate contemplative; he was great enough to be able to translate the Church’s faith into a prayerful synthesis, yet humble enough to disappear into anonymity. God knows his name; the world does not. It is just as well; in this way, the hymn belongs to everyone, because it belongs to the Church. (24)
That the Catholic Church clearly embraces the beliefs set forth in this hymn to the Mother of God is clear from the plenary indulgence the Church grants to all Catholics who pray the Akathist to the Mother of God and fulfill the other requirements for a plenary indulgence.
The Theotokos in Iconography
In addition to the praise that the Eastern Church gives to the Blessed Mother through sacred hymns, the Church also praises and venerates the Holy Theotokos through the use of icons. The icon expresses the glorious truths of Our Lady without using words, in a way that reaches not only the head, but also the heart of the believer. Iconography in the Eastern Church sets forth the Church’s beliefs about Our Lady, and at the same time expresses the love and devotion the Church feels for the Mother Who is our Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate before God. Let us look at specific icons to learn the truths of the Blessed Mother which are set forth in these images.
The Annunciation Icon
Details of this icon are drawn from the Gospel of St. Luke, and from the Protoevangelium of James. In this account we are told of the meaning of the thread and spindle which Mary holds in almost every icon of the Annunciation:
we are . . . told that at the time of the Annunciation Mary was engaged in drawing out purple thread that was to be used for making a veil for the Temple. This latter detail is almost always included in icons of the Annunciation, often with the thread falling away to the ground: Mary turns away from the external work with the thread for a veil in the Jerusalem Temple, to attend to the vocation to become the temple and dwelling place of the Incarnate Lord. (25)
This detail of the thread points out the truth that Mary is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Temple.
The posture of the Blessed Mother represents a questioning of the angel’s message, but also a free choice and willingness to cooperate in God’s plan of salvation. Once again, by Her free choice to obey, the Blessed Mother can be seen as the New Eve who reverses Eve’s disobedience and brings the New Adam into the world. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, overshadowing the Virgin, depicts the truth of the Virgin birth of Christ and Mary’s role as Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
The Nativity Icon
The icon of the Nativity of Christ sets forth for believers several truths about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout the Eastern Church, this icon is brought out in the Christmas season, and worshippers who pray in front of the image learn the truths about the Blessed Virgin Mary as they gaze on the details of this scene. At the center of the icon is the Blessed Mother, set forth as the New Eve and the Mother of the new creation born through Her Divine Son. As one author tells us: “The Virgin Mother lies in the centre of the icon, as the second Eve. Just as the first Eve was the ‘mother of all living’ (Gen 3:20), so the Virgin Mother of God is the Mother of the new humanity restored and deified through the Incarnation of the Eternal Son.” (26)
Below the Mother, two midwives wash and care for the newborn infant Jesus: “their function in the icon is to stress the true humanity of the Incarnate God, against the heretical teaching that Christ only appeared to be human.” (27) In the lower left corner of the icon, Saint Joseph sits with a troubled expression on his face, and the Blessed Mother is turned toward him with solicitude. Here is set forth the doctrine of the Virgin birth of Christ, for Joseph looks troubled, as “one who is not the father of the child, and who represents those who cannot comprehend the wonder of this event which is beyond the natural order of things.” (28) Mary’s maternal care is shown by the fact that, “the face of the Virgin is turned towards Joseph—a symbol of compassion for those beset by doubts and difficulties in believing.” (29)
Thus, we have within the Nativity icon, the doctrine of Mary as the New Eve and Mother of the new humanity, an affirmation of the true humanity of Christ, the true virginity of the Blessed Mother, and the role of Mary as the compassionate Mother of those in trial.
The Presentation Icon
In the icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is set forth a seed of the Blessed Mother’s role as Co-Redemptrix, for She offers the infant Messiah to the Lord, and into the hands of Simeon, a “representative of the old covenant community of Israel,” (30) reminding us that “the Mother of God offers Her Son to all who will receive Him with faith and love—those very qualities expressed in the outstretched arms of Simeon as he receives the Christ child.” (31) The Blessed Mother, aware of the future sufferings of the Son, nonetheless obediently brings Him to the Temple, showing Her readiness to cooperate in God’s saving plan, even at the cost of Her own suffering and sacrifice. Believers who pray before this icon can meditate on the Co-Redemptrix’s self-sacrificing cooperation in God’s work of salvation, springing forth from Her love of God and love for all the spiritual children who will be born to Her through Her Son’s saving work.
The Mother of God of the Way Icon
There are various depictions of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child. The “Hodogitria” is the name given to the style of icon in which “the right hand of the Virgin points to the Incarnate Son of God who sits enthroned on her left arm, facing out from the icon with a scroll in his left hand and the right hand raised in blessing.” (32) This icon shows little tenderness between Mother and Child, for Christ is portrayed as “pre-eternal God and incarnate Wisdom who has come into the world, and who has the divine authority to bless and instruct,” (33) while the Mother shows us the way, pointing away from Herself and toward Her Son. The fact that Mary is seen with Her Divine Child as the “Theotokos” stresses “the reality of the Incarnation: the divinity as well as the humanity of the Incarnate Son.” (34) While this icon portrays these truths about the Incarnation, it also expresses the truth that the Blessed Mother stands as a “symbol and type of the Church and the Christian vocation: to point away from self to Christ, and yet to have an inner awareness of his presence in ourselves through the life of prayer and worship.” (35)
Mother of God of the Passion Icon
In this icon, the Blessed Mother holds the Christ Child, while in the upper corners are two angels who are holding the instruments of the Passion of the Lord. The Christ Child looks up at one of the angels, and the “expression of the Mother and Child show that they are well aware of the meaning of the instruments.” (36) Also known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” this icon sets forth Our Lady’s role as Co-Redemptrix, suffering with Her Son in His Passion for the Redemption of mankind. We see the immensity of Our Lady’s suffering in the fact that Our Lady realized the future sufferings of Her Son even from the time of His birth.
Eastern Church iconography shows the exalted role of the Mother of God, and history bears witness to the devotion which believers from the Eastern Church give to the Holy Virgin. A short story from one Russian Orthodox writer during World War I exemplifies the love that the people show to the Blessed Mother through iconography, and the fact that She carries out the roles of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate for the people:
In late August, prayer services for a victorious end to the war were held throughout the country. Under the impact of anxiety, the attendance in our village was unusually large and the mood of the congregation very fervent . . . . The church was crammed. Everyone joined in singing the prayer to the Holy Virgin. At the words, “We have no other recourse, no other hope,” many wept, and the whole crowd prostrated itself at the Virgin’s feet. I had never before heard a large congregation put so much feeling into these words. All these peasants had seen the refugees and were thinking of their own possible destitution, death from famine, the horrors of winter flight. No doubt they felt that without the Virgin’s protection they would surely perish. (37)
After looking at the liturgy, devotion, and iconography of the Eastern Church, the strong faith and love of the Eastern Church for the Holy Mother of God in her roles as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate become clear. Even when these titles for Mary are not explicitly used, the words of the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office make it obvious that the Eastern Church understands that Mary fulfills the roles of participating with Her Son in our redemption (Co-Redemptrix), mediating all graces to God’s children (Mediatrix), and praying for us unceasingly from Her exalted place in heaven (Advocate). In addition, the iconography of the East makes clear the doctrines of Our Lady, and allows believers to meditate upon the truths of Her exalted roles.
Just as Mary serves as a bridge between Her Son and the world, she can also serve as a strong unifying factor between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. Our late Holy Father, John Paul II, the Totus Tuus Pope, recognized the heartfelt devotion of the Eastern Churches to Our Lady, and saw Her as a key to unity between the East and the West. Our beloved John Paul II spoke of his joy at the Eastern Church’s expressions of love for Mary through their liturgy and devotions in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater. He summarizes the importance of the Eastern Churches in the development of Church dogma, and the unity that can come about within the Church through our common praise of Our Lady:
I wish to emphasize how profoundly the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the ancient Churches of the East feel united by love and praise of the Theotokos. Not only “basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the Trinity and God’s Word made flesh of the Virgin Mary were defined in Ecumenical Councils held in the East,” but also in their liturgical worship “the Orientals pay high tribute, in very beautiful hymns, to Mary ever Virgin . . . God’s Most Holy Mother” . . . . Such a wealth of praise, built up by the different forms of the Church’s great tradition, could help us to hasten the day when the Church can begin once more to breathe fully with her “two lungs,” the East and the West. As I have often said, this is more than ever necessary today.
As many theologians have pointed out with regards to the formal definition of the Fifth Marian Dogma, Mary Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, the nature of truth is to heal, rather than separate. Clearly the Eastern Churches already have the truths of Mary deeply embedded within their minds and hearts, as can be seen from a closer study of their liturgy and devotions. Thus, the Eastern Churches can lend support for the definition of the Fifth Marian Dogma. And, in return, the definition of the Dogma will help to draw together the Eastern and Western Churches as we recognize the unity of our beliefs regarding the Most Holy Theotokos. May She once again bear for the Church the light of truth so that the East and West can recognize the truth of our unity.
(1) Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
(2) Matins, Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos.
(3) Great Vespers, The Birth of the Holy Theotokos.
(6) Matins, The Birth of the Holy Theotokos.
(7) Great Vespers, Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos.
(8) Matins, The Birth of the Holy Theotokos.
(9) Great Vespers, Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos.
(10) Ware, Archimandrite Kallistos, The Festal Menaion, London: Faber, 1969, 61.
(11) Small Vespers, The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
(12) Matins, The Birth of Our Most Holy Lady.
(13) Compline, The Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ.
(14) Matins, The Universal Exaltation.
(15) Small Vespers, The Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.
(16) Great Vespers, Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady.
(19) Matins, Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady.
(21) Matins, Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos.
(22) Bohorodicen, Liturgy for the Deceased.
(23) Gambero, Luigi, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999, 341.
(24) Ibid., 338.
(25) Baggley, John, Doors of Perception: icons and their spiritual significance, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988, 128.
(26) Ibid., 142.
(30) Ibid., 126
(32) Ibid., 106.
(36) Popp, Bishop Nathaniel, Holy Icons, Jackson, MI: Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, 1969, 27.
(37) Trubetskoi, Eugene, Icons: Theology in Color, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973, 35.